Catholic church in Cologne failed to handle claims for sexual abuse, findings report

BERLIN – The Cardinal of Cologne in Germany has suspended two high-ranking officials named in a report on the church’s handling of allegations of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests, ending months of speculation over a case that led thousands of people in the area to sever their relationship with the church over the past year.

In the report, which was released on Tuesday, no harm was done by Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki. But an auxiliary bishop serving in the archdiocese and the head of the ecclesiastical court were both mentioned in the 800-page review. It documents a “systematic cover-up” in the archdiocese’s handling of sexual abuse allegations from 1975 to 2018, and the cardinal immediately announced suspensions for both men.

“As of today, it is no longer possible to say that we had no idea,” Cardinal Woelki said after the release of the report – which he had not seen before, but which he said he feared. “I am deeply moved and ashamed of this, and I am convinced that their actions should have consequences for clergy.”

None of those mentioned were charged with crimes, although a copy of the report was sent to prosecutors in Cologne. Cardinal Woelki said a copy would also be sent to the Vatican.

The report was eagerly awaited by Bj√∂rn Gercke, a lawyer in Cologne, amid growing frustration over Cardinal Woelki’s refusal to disclose the results of an earlier investigation by a Munich law firm into the conduct of church leaders. to make. A similar investigation by the firm Munich into misconduct in the neighboring diocese of Aachen has been announced.

Germany is largely secular and less than a third of its 82 million inhabitants belong to the Catholic Church. But the church remains a powerful institution, deeply embedded in German culture and social structures, especially in the western region around Cologne. The church has extensive property and employs several hospitals, day care centers and nursing homes with more than a million people.

In the report of mr. Gercke named eight people, two of whom died, who committed 75 cases of misconduct by failing to report abuse to the appropriate authorities or adequately protecting the victims. He emphasizes that the report focused on how the church accused abuse and not on specific cases of abuse.

The Archbishop of Hamburg, Stefan Hesse, who had previously served in Cologne, was also mentioned for not failing in his duties. The predecessor of Cardinal Woelki, Archbishop Joachim Meisner, who died in 2017, also said that in 24 cases he did not act properly.

Archbishop Meisner also kept a secret file, titled ‘Brothers in the Mist,’ which contains details of allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse, the report found.

At the same time, it found that church leaders and others responsible for handling complaints of abuse could not keep accurate records or documentation, Kerstin Stirner, a lawyer who worked on the report, said at a news conference in Cologne.

For decades, there was an opaque system in which no one felt responsible, she said.

“It was characterized by chaos” and a “lack of responsibility and misunderstanding” that only changed in 2015, when a structure was set up for reporting and dealing with abuse cases, Ms. Stirner said.

Mr. Gercke recommends further strengthening the abuse reporting procedures and improving the accuracy of record keeping as part of efforts to prevent future misconduct.

He also said the church needs to change an internal culture that focuses more on the institution’s reputation than on protecting the victims.

The results of the Munich report, which has not yet been released, were to be presented in March last year. But after weeks of release postponed, Cardinal Woelki said he had problems so serious it could not be made public. This led to the public’s suspicion that there was something to disguise.

In the past year, the cardinal has been widely criticized, and more than 12,000 congregation members have already left the church or made an appointment to do so.

Since 2010, the Bishops’ Conference has operated a hotline for abuse and had a bishop as its own commissioner on the matter.

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